One word describes the new Adobe Creative Suite 3 (CS3 for short): Massive. And for the price, $1799 for Design Premium, $1699 for Production Premium, $1599 for Web Premium, or $2,500 for the Master Collection, it should be. What do you get for your large credit card bill' Pretty much everything Adobe and the former Macromedia have to offer.

Depending on the suite you purchase, design, web or production, the CS3 bundle will include some combination of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, Acrobat, Premiere, After Effects, Encore, Soundbooth and a slew of other accessory applications including the former DV Rack and Ultra applications from another acquisition, Serious Magic. If you can dream it, Adobe CS3 can make it possible. The CS3 Master Collection ($2500) includes the entire lineup for those that simply need it all.
Kinoma has been getting rave reviews for its Kinoma Player 4 EX for the Palm OS but it also makes a great little encoder for the Palm and other handhelds. Kinoma Producer 4 is a deceptively powerful little program that makes it extremely easy to transcode video for iPods, Portable Playstations, Palm devices and various smart phones. It comes packed with templates and batch processing capability so you can quickly convert a library of material to the appropriate format.

There are plenty of free and shareware programs for converting to and from countless formats. For example, programs like Super from eRightSoft are extremely powerful and do a lot of things just fine. However, what they typically lack are a decent GUI and optimized presets. If you take the time and experiment you can get some great results but you really don't need to.

If you play guitar and are looking for the ultimate plug-in for your DAW look no further than AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix. Guest funkyfresh contributor and guitar guru, Eric Larsen, recently plugged into the Jimi rig and he hasn't gotten any sleep since. Here's his review.

The first thing you notice when launching AmpliTube Jim Hendrix is how attractive the design is and how comfortable it makes you feel. This is not the first amp simulator to mimic the look of an actual amp and won't be the last. However, IK does an awesome job with the GUI. There's just something nice about knobs'even virtual ones. The graphics team needs to be commended on the tasteful 'aging' of the interface. The amps have scratches in the tolex and tears in the grill cloth. It's even discolored from the heat of the tubes! That's just too cool.

Sonicfire Pro 4 is the latest incarnation of the Sonic Fire Pro series from SmartSound for creating royalty free music for video and other projects. Entry-level versions of the program have been included in video editing packages from the likes of Adobe, Avid and Ulead for some time. The latest standalone version adds additional control over the mix, multilayer tracks from the Strata Series sound library and what SmartSound calls "mood mapping", essentially an automated way to break down the mix and turn various combinations of instruments on and off with automated transitions along the timeline.

The ability to break a sound library down by instrument track, punch elements in and out and volume envelopes combined with the traditional elements of song structure, verse/chorus/bridge, allows for myriad variations of a track to be made quickly and easily.
The musical building blocks in these kinds of programs are similar to what you would find in your typical loop based production tool, mainly instrument and phrase samples. What sets one a part from the other is the musicality of the finished product. In other words, does it sound like real musicians playing or does it sound like a MIDI. Sometimes a loop and MIDI track will do just fine but other times an authentic acoustic feel is needed.
Matt Fink played keyboards with Prince & the Revolution for over ten years. Dr. Fink's Funk Factory from Sony Media Software contains nearly 1000 original royalty-free loops. This includes drum loops, analog synth themes, clavinet licks, thick analog solos, classic orchestral stabs and more. It provides solid building blocks for a wide range of pop and dance grooves.

Tony Franklin: Not Just Another Pretty Bass Player is a collection of bass loops featuring Tony laying down his signature sound on his Fender' Fretless Precision Bass'. We first heard some of the loops at the NAMM show with Tony performing live. This is not your typical collection of bass loops.

Both of these new libraries from Sony Media Software are two-disc sets with 24-bit quality and a new twist Sony calls artist integration. Artist integration means these loops were created by musicians playing along to loops created by other musicians. Instead of just creating a bunch of samples in a vacuum the artist is recorded playing along to other loops. This gives the effect of real musicians playing together. The end result is a final composition that is tighter and more musical sounding.
ACID Pro 6 is the ACID we've all been waiting for. It remains true to its pick, paint and play intuitive interface and adds professional level multitrack and MIDI capability. Sony also beefed up the effects package and includes a paired down version of Native Instruments KOMPAKT sample playback engine as well as a library of samples from the Sony Sound Series. That's a pretty attractive bundle for under $400.

When I first fired up ACID 1.0 back in 1998 I was instantly hooked. However, since it lacked the MIDI and multitrack capabilities I needed, it became more of a musical phrase generator more than anything else. I would often start in ACID and then export my various creations as WAV or AIF files into another program. ACID Pro 6 changes all of that. Now it's possible to build a solid foundation with loops and build on top of it with live instruments and external MIDI gear. Having that ability makes it a true musical environment versus a remix or loop engine.

ACID Pro 6 now includes full automation support and works with external control devices. You no longer have to tweak all the settings using your mouse and keyboard. The plug-in support is much better too. We used both the WAVES and Universal Audio plug-ins with great success.

Sony now supports a wider variety of file formats for importing and exporting in ACID Pro 6 including MPEG, QuickTime, Real Media and others. However, we were disappointed to learn the MainConcept MPEG plug-in requires an upgrade. There's nothing worse than attempting to render a file and learning it's going to cost a few extra bucks for that capability. MPEG gripes aside, ACID Pro 6 makes an excellent platform for composing for video.

ACID is one of the most intuitive music making programs on the planet. If you can't get your groove on with this software it's time to think about another hobby or profession. For the rhythm challenged there's a Beatmapper tool that does a pretty good job of analyzing audio, finding down beats and locking it to what's already in your mix. With 4/4 style rhythms it does a pretty good job and often nails it spot on. But when things get complicated don't expect ACID to do the work for you. You're responsible for your own trip.

Visit Sony Media Software for more information and all the specs on ACID Pro 6.
The NAMM, International Music Products Association, show is a lot like the Consumer Electronics Show, CES, but with musicians and whole lot of creative gear. New components, gadgets, software modeling and workstation programs make the show a geek's paradise. The complement of beautifully crafted acoustic instruments reminds everyone of why they're at the show in the first place. It's all about making music or inspiring others to do so.
Ulead has added a variety of new features, improved the interface and generally made version 2.0 a worthwhile upgrade. The general work flow is the same but the program responds a little faster and feels better to work with. But more importantly, whereas the initial version was more of a fun program for hobbyists, version 2.0 has professional features for creating much more impressive discs.

New in this version are audio and subtitle options that offer up to 8 different audio tracks and 32 subtitles. So now, multiple language DVDs and the director's cut can be added for that professional touch.

First off, like everything else, we'll preface this article by saying these things change. A month ago we would have picked Mitsui Advanced Media for both our audio and DVD discs. After being acquired by a firm from Italy some suppliers are speculating that quality has gone down and in fact that MAM may be getting some discs from third parties. It's a shame because Mitsui prided itself on complete control of the materials and manufacturing process of its discs. A recent batch of 4x printable media suggests things might be changing. We had trouble getting the media recognized in several of our burners including a Pioneer A05, A07 and Toshiba 5112. The Toshiba surprised us because it seems to be the least picky of drives.